Analog Tara-Fundamentals EP: Album Review

I’d find it hard to overstate Tara Rodgers’ impact on electronic music.  Once a website and now a book, her project Pink Noise has expertly cataloged the work and presence of women in electronic music ranging from the academics like Maggi Payne and Pauline Oliveros to indie-cred folk like Le Tigre.  In terms of her own work, I think it’s fair to say that Maggi Payne’s obsession with sound in a massive sense has had the biggest impact–in Payne’s interview she speaks about hours spent recording pipes in an empty building, late into the evening, her favorite part of the music making process.  The specific moniker Analog Tara is rather specifically a techno outfit, but Rodgers has consistently drawn from field recordings, classical composition, and her jazz piano roots throughout her career.

Rodgers is skilled at keeping her project tight in terms of vision, however.  Although relatively ambitious, her 2007 album Ocean State mixed an improvisational jazz feel with the textures of sound art, not a sound out of place.

On this EP, the music is breezy yet detailed, true to form yet unique.  An unsuspecting bass line opens with raucous kick drums following closely, but Rodger’s snare pattern is consistently dynamic, matched with expertly placed stabs of shimmer late in the game.  “Pulse and Light” remains effortlessly light on its feet with it’s broken drum pattern, and “Propulsion” fleshes out a bouncy synth pattern before covering it in washes as the track pulses forward.  Closer “Density and Surface” is perhaps the most adventurous, beginning only with a shiny high drone, before delving in and out of wide open space and big, thobbing material.  The “student of the game” feel to Rodgers’ music is always present, but she also never fails to make it sound effortless and fun.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

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Dear Nora-Skulls Example: Album Review

I had already fallen in love with this album, but something about listening to it on a drive home at dusk after a long day really clicked with me this past weekend.

“Wifi o’er the land”

Skulls Example is loosely about the insane juxtapositions that today brings.  As Katy Davidson puts it: “Skulls Example is about how our weird, techno-futuristic present juxtaposes so absurdly against the never-ending backdrop of inexorable, ancient elements.”

At least where I live, 4G LTE is everywhere.  In the 8 acres of wetland behind by childhood home, on the old highways that lead out to the obscurely shaped stretches of Rhode Island’s peninsulas.  Driving across hills and stetches of blue and green this past Sunday, I was enveloped in Davidson’s small sounding, rural sound world and simultaneously accessing twitter to see the Newport Jazz Festival’s photos from George Clinton’s closing set.

A festival founded in 1954, honoring one of the broadest genres of the day, the Newport Jazz Festival itself even fits into this theme.  This is a place where Chicago free jazz veterans Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith get called “the sound of the future” while a younger group of musicians are playing standards that pre-date the birth dates of Threadgill and Smith next door.  It’s fun but disorienting to experience George Clinton’s artful excess a day removed from Trio3’s spare improvisational style.

It’s absurd that I can feel the intimacy of the small Portland home where Davidson tracked their vocals, while looking at the sunset over Newport Beach in the corner of my eye and the photos that will be used to commodify my nostalgia in 50 years front and center.

This is what Davidson is talking about when they craft a landscape out of phrases like “where the Morning Glories twine around my door at early morn” or “deserted is the word for all this wonderful nothing” then flatten it all with a reference to today.

There’s the layering effect of instagram/screens/television–the distortion that comes with communication over these forms: “Took a photo of a photo and I got in trouble;” “Sunset in the video game and I’m walking on the beach…it’s all within reach;” “last night I watched a movie about the Oregon trail.”  Davidson presents this world through a critical lens, certainly, but not in the vein of direct disdain: “Simulation Feels Real” she says–but what else is she going to say, there’s no going back under late capitalism.

On Skulls Example, the pastoral tone and lyrical imagery make for a believable simulation, but just as our technological world can feel at once unimaginably beautiful and utterly horrifying, Davidson’s intimate styling has an ounce of despair at every turn.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

“Sunset on Humanity”

 

 

 

Looking Ahead: August 10th

Moses Sumney-Black in Deep Red, 2014 EP

It’s a true testament to Sumney’s vision as an artist that he can immerse his listener in a completely different sound world from his last album in a nine-minute EP.  Here, the barren landscapes of Aromanticism get swapped for massive layering and driving intensity.

Shygirl-Cruel Practice EP

Producer Shygirl makes dynamic, dark music that drives and pulses with energy.

Denzel Curry-TA1300: Album Review

Florida rapper Denzel Curry thrives in the world of Soundcloud rap, but unlike some of his peers who direct their energy towards shock factor and distortion, Curry threads dense rhymes through his raucous vocals and catchy refrains.  Built on three acts simply entitled Light, Gray, and Dark, Denzel Curry’s latest sees him expanding the world of 2016’s Imperial with more brightly infused R&B sounds at the front of the album, before delving into the varying degrees of darkness that cloud his outlook.

Opening with a yearning, soulful smolder, the album starts off in a new zone for Curry, almost bordering the likes of Saba or Kendrick.  Slow, longing vocals evoke a torn, emotional world before Curry starts his verse.  His lyrics mimic the sound world painting a picture of emotional scarring to match the overarching darkness.  Black Balloons follows with Curry perhaps more accurately striking the Light title as the black balloons above his head that represent his depression pop and set him free.

As advertised, Curry’s energy begins to shift.  Although thematically positive, Sumo’s intensity leads into the aggressive Gray portion of the work.  Capped off by single Clout Cobain, which speaks about suicidal thoughts, here Curry’s lyrics begin to dabble in morbid and crazed themes (in Switch it Up he references lynchings: “If life is hangin’ by a thread/Then a ni**a just might be dead”).  Admittedly, the difference between Gray and Dark can be hard to hear in spots, but the bright melody of Cobain would certainly be out of place amongst the full-throttle raw energy of the last handful of tracks.

Despite, Curry himself showing willingness to abandon the grimier sides of his vocals on the hooks, the most exciting aspect of this album is his use of features.  Nyyjerya helps elevate the bright tone of Cash Maniac, before more goth-friendly support from Billie Eilish on Sirens.

The bottom line is Denzel Curry can rap his ass off and write a catchy hook.  Taboo sees these talents fleshed out in a multitude of different ways yielding standout material and effortless flow.

8/10

-Donovan Burtan

Wild Pink-Yolk in the Fur: Album Review

Wild Pink make music for the road.  Their new album immediately strikes a pastoral tone, with driving guitar leads accompanying vocalist John Ross’s soft-but-passionate vocals to huge, rousing moments.  In the vein of War on Drugs, or Amen Dues (but even diving into a bit of GY!BE guitar magic), the group seemingly just strums harder or yelps with a bit more intent, however, these moments are transcendent, diving into the soul and making one believe in the magic of life again.

Many may roll their eyes at a comparison to the likes of Mumford and Sons and other foot-stomping commercial stuff from four or five years ago–and with their gauzy guitar clouds the group certainly crafts a more ageless, mature world–but Ross’s voice in another context could certainly border on adult contemporary, singer-songwriter stuff.  Not to mention the plainly wholesome life-isms scattered throughout the lyrics: “I hope we find peace” on There is a Ledger; “love is better than anything else” on Love is Better; and “I don’t know what happens next” on All Some Frenchman’s Joke.  Yet, the band avoids heavy-handedness in the way they construct their tunes.

On first glance, Lake Erie comes across as a chugging Americana jam, but the sweet slide guitar comes in only on occasion and the chorus doesn’t exactly broadcast itself, seemingly just stumbling out of the imagery that Ross crafts in the opening verse.  “I don’t know why but it seems like there’s a reason for it all” pops up after the dust settles post-guitar solo with Ross laying into a slight decline in tempo.  It’s these little details that add a sense of delicacy and maintain the tasteful aura.

The core of the album comes on “The Seance on St. Augustine St,” a six minute anthem spawned from a prodding slow bass intro, before Ross sneaks in his upper range.  The tempo speeds a bit gradually before a rather sudden shift on the entrance of the lyric “they can’t help me now,” which becomes a refrain alongside the most towering guitar work on the album.

It’s fair to say that much of the album addresses the lessons you learn in the late teenage to adulthood years, when many people loose track of the community who have surrounded them throughout their lives.  Here, the band fearlessly faces down this future, powerfully capturing their ethos.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

Iggy Pop and Underworld-Teatime Dub Encounters: Album Review

Perhaps an aspect of Iggy Pop’s longevity is his not-your-god mentality.  Whether it be his ode to the Funhouse, where he spent days on end strung out on drugs, or his album simply entitled  The Idiot, the dude’s whole M.O. is an exercise in Ego Death–a strategy much more conducive to maintaining a musical fanbase than Kanye’s I-am-you-god mentality.

Teatime Dub Encounters opens with a tune that begs the question: if given the ability for transcendence how would one act? Pop’s answer: “like a complete piece of shit.”  Realistically, what do I care about? Nothing, I’m terrible, I’d just smoke on the airplane.

Later, Pop strikes a bit more of a emotional tone on “I’ll See Big” where he talks about friendship, in a somewhat roundabout way describing the phases through which one goes.  There’s situations where one wants to just find anyone who’s willing, and others where one allows for a “demanding” friend–emotionally demanding or otherwise.  Approaching old age, Pop ruminates on what it all means and sort of centers himself, discussing that love-em’/hate-em’ juxtaposition that the most important friendships feed off of.

Sonically, Underworld certainly show their age a bit, but electronic music has exploded so much since their time that they can only help but sound a bit out of the depth of Lotic or Oneohtrix Point Never.  Also, the seven minute spoken work format of course has its pitfalls.  Here and there, Pop spouts off a line that doesn’t have the teeth he expect it to (i.e. “It’s over for the liberal democracies”) and even when he’s crafting a chorus, “get your shirt” doesn’t quite cut it.

Still, Iggy Pop’s elder years show no sign of vanilla.  Between this and Josh Homme touting Post Pop Depression, Pop remains relentlessly fun and interesting.

7/10

-Donovan Burtan